Barboni Ranch, Hicks Valley
1,194 acres MALT-protected since 2012
For more than 100 years, the Barboni family has taken care of the land and in turn the land has taken care of them. MALT's recent purchase of two agricultural conservation easements on 1,194 acres of the family's ranch is the latest chapter of this ongoing story.
Located west of Novato in Hicks Valley, Barboni Ranch occupies a diverse, iconic Marin landscape that includes tabletop-flat pasture, gentle grass-covered hills, dense oak woodlands, diverse evergreen forest and the scenic Soulajule Reservoir. In the summer a blanket of cooling fog advances overnight from nearby Tomales Bay and pulls back as the day warms.
The ranch's varied habitat is home to a wide variety of wildlife. A biological assessment of the property identified 15 special status species including a pair of nesting Northern spotted owls, Cooper's hawks, burrowing owls, grasshopper sparrows, California red-legged frogs, river otters, American badgers and southwestern pond turtles. Soulajule Reservoir helps sustain adequate water flow to Walker Creek that provides habitat for steelhead trout.
The ranch looks much the way it did a century ago. The Barboni family used to run dairy cattle on the land, but today Bill Barboni II raises beef cattle and sheep that he sells under the Hicks Valley Cattle Co. brand. Not only are the cattle grass-fed and organic, the ranch’s operations have been certified by Global Animal Partnership, a nonprofit organization that recognizes ranchers and producers for their animal welfare practices.
Bill’s grandfather, Charles Barboni, purchased the “Home Ranch” in the early 1930’s. The family was one of the original producers to ship milk to the Petaluma Cooperative Creamery. The Barbonis co-founded Marin Dairymen’s Milk Company, later known as Marin Dell Milk Company, with a group of progressive Marin dairymen. They were the first producers of grade A milk.
Three generations later, the ranch is helping provide for the family again. Bill’s parents, Bill, 92, and Rosemarie, 88, who live on the ranch along with three of their five children, were facing an uncertain future. The MALT easements will enable Bill to continue with ranching and provide funding to assist the rest of the family with their needs. The elder Barbonis could have sold a portion of the ranch, but that would have opened the door to residential development and the end to a way of life practiced by the family for decades. Marin County would also lose a link to its agricultural past and the many environmental benefits the ranch provides to the region at large.
“It’s a classic MALT situation,” says Bill.
Bill grew up on the ranch along with his brother, Charlie, and three sisters, Stephanie, Bonnie and Julie. During this time he developed his love for cattle and horses. “It was just me, my dog and my horse,” he recalls fondly. While his life may not be as carefree now (he is also a veterinarian and owner of Marin Pet Hospital in San Rafael), he still spends long days with dogs, cattle and horses on the ranch.
The Barboni family knew it had an alternative to putting the family’s ranch up for sale. They had worked with MALT in 2002 to permanently protect 1,300 acres on an adjoining property. MALT and the family worked together again over the past four years. The new conservation easements enable them to distribute some of the equity of the ranch while still keeping the ranch alive. Without MALT’s help, Bill says, the pressure to sell would have been strong.
“It allows my parents to settle up with life,” says Bill. “I see it as conserving the land, keeping it open and preserving a way of life.”
MALT worked with the family for four years to protect the ranch, which was complicated because of the number of funders involved. This portion of the Barboni Ranch contains two parcels, the 746-acre Barboni “Home Ranch” and the 448-acre Bassi Ranch, a property that Bill’s father and mother acquired in the 1950s.
In the end, MALT was able to leverage donor funds raised through Farmland Forever: Campaign to Honor Executive Director Bob Berner to raise public funds to complete the purchase, which totaled $3,686,000. The campaign raised $1,372,000 for the Barboni easement purchase from generous donors, including the 11th Hour Project, to honor Bob, who retired in 2012.
Funding from The Coastal Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Board and California Department of Transportation made up $2,314,000 of the purchase price. The Wildlife Conservation Board’s funds were granted to protect the property’s diverse oak woodlands, while the California Department of Transportation funds were allocated to permanently protect a 204-acre portion of the ranch as habitat for the endangered California red-legged frog.
Now that sale of the ranch is completed, Bill can do what he loves best and a historic Marin County ranch will live on to offer a home for people and animals, wild and domestic. "I promised my grandfather we'd always have cattle here," says Bill. “It’s part of my family heritage.” That’s a promise he can keep.
View a slideshow of Barboni Ranch »
MALT members hiked on Barboni Ranch in 2014. View slideshow »
Look like fun? Hikes on beautiful private ranches are just one benefit of MALT membership. Learn more »